The AFC playoff picture is complete and two exciting Wild Card matchups are set for next weekend.
The Houston Texans failed to win their final game of the season against the Colts and this caused them to drop to the No. 3 seed after Denver Broncos and New England Patriots victories.
Houston will now face the Cincinnati Bengals on Wild Card Weekend, while the Broncos move up to the top seed in the AFC, and the Patriots receive the other first-round bye.
The Baltimore Ravens could not beat the Bengals on Sunday, but even a victory would not have helped them and they will face the Indianapolis Colts next week. The dates and game times are still to be determined and these are the matchups that will be the deciding factors in each contest.
No. 3 Houston Texans vs. No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals
Date: Saturday, January 5
Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
DT Geno Atkins vs. Houston Interior Lineman
Geno Atkins’ name is not brought up nearly as much as it should be in conversations about the NFL’s dominant defensive forces, as he is one of the best defensive tackles in football.
He is an excellent pass rusher, extremely effective against the run and has the potential to frustrate the Houston offense. The Texans will look to establish their running game early on and, if Atkins wins early battles in the trenches, the team will have to alter its game plan.
Also, Matt Schaub is not a very mobile quarterback and, if Atkins gets pressure up the middle, the Houston passing attack will struggle.With another outstanding performance from him, the Bengals will win.
WR A.J. Green vs. Houston Secondary
The Texans have more talent on their roster, but the Bengals have playmakers on both sides of the ball, and key individual performances can swing the game in their favor.
Atkins will be the key to Cincinnati’s success on defense and A.J. Green will need to turn in another big game on offense. He is the most talented wide receiver in the league this side to Calvin Johnson and has has been spectacular this season with 11 touchdown receptions on 95 catches.
Houston’s secondary was unimpressive against Indianapolis in the season finale and Green will certainly be able to find holes next weekend. If quarterback Andy Dalton can find his star wideout frequently, Cincinnati will make this game extremely difficult for the Texans.
No. 4 Baltimore Ravens vs. No. 5 Indianapolis Colts
Date: Sunday, January 6
Time: 1 p.m. ET
QB Andrew Luck vs. Playoff Pressure
Andrew Luck was the 2012 draft class’ top prospect due to his poise and maturity in addition to his physical skills, but there is no way to predict how a rookie will deal with his first taste of playoff action.
This game will be the most important contest of Luck’s life, and he will be playing an extremely experienced defense. The Ravens have been in the playoffs in each of the past four seasons and players on both sides of the ball for Baltimore know exactly what they are getting into.
But the Colts have a first-year head coach, a rookie quarterback and several other young players.
If Luck continues to play like a veteran and avoid rookie mistakes, the Colts will have an excellent chance to continue their recent success. But, if his inexperience shows, it will be a long day for Indy.
Baltimore vs. Momentum
Peaking at the right time is vital for postseason success and, if this holds true next weekend, the Ravens’ playoff run will not last longer than 60 minutes of play.
Baltimore has lost four of its last five games and its confidence may be severely shaken when it takes the field next weekend. All of the momentum right now is behind the Colts, who have won five of their last six games.
While experience and overall talent are factors working for the Ravens, recent history suggests that the hottest teams do well in the postseason. In this matchup, the Ravens are not the team on a roll.